What do you get when you combine the cadence of Patti Smith, the rhythms of beat poet Anne Waldman, and the vocal freedom of Yoko Ono? Marla Mase’s SPEAK fuses the lyrical intensity of these three women backed by the arrangements of the Tomás Doncker Band. Mase is bent on exploring the use of verse set against music ala “Riders on the Storm.” Each track on SPEAK sets itself apart from the next, ranging from a reggae-inspired anti-anorexia anthem (“AnnaRexia”) to a post-modern inception of self via space, time, and the internet (“Blog”). SPEAK Deluxe, out 2/28/13, features a versatile composition of percussion, vocals, guitars, and dance hall beats.
The album’s socio-political lilt is clear from the outset. The first two tracks, “Scream (reprise)” and “Piece of Peace,” though vastly different in terms of composition, explicitly use music as political expression. The chorus of “Piece of Peace” demands, Give us a piece of peace/we all want peace, please. Mase is caterwauling, clawing at the peak of her vocal range, delivering that edgy rasp a demand requires. “Lioness” offers another vocally experimental performance from Mase when she literally roars into the microphone, hearkening a bird-like Yoko Ono freedom and playfulness. This track is at once a celebration of desire and an affirmation of feminine prowess.
Mase’s politics come as no surprise to her core audience. The New York City based artist is a feminist activist who was invited to perform in China for the UN’s GLOBAL PEACE DAY on Sept 21, 2012. I appreciate how Mase’s politics are unapologetic and upfront on SPEAK; “AnnaRexia” blatantly states She’s on a hunger strike/until the world is right, confronting the social disease affecting many women; and “Scream” recalls the repression of being a woman in a misogynist’s world. She speaks her experience of being a multidimensional individual, exploring sexuality, rage, activism, and word craft. Her use of beat-poet influenced verses and choruses acknowledges traditional rhythmic chants that originated around fires in the first civilizations. Similar to Anne Waldman’s use of repetition in her poetry, the phrase Keeps coming in “New Cell Phone” adds a dynamic rhythmic layer.
Politics aside, SPEAK initially presents itself as an album made by Frank Zappa inspired band fronted by a Patti Smith loving writer/vocalist. It ends up being much more curious than that, however. The only thing that makes this album more curious than a Smith/Zappa cross pollination is the reggae percussion and rhythms, at times topped with bold (dare I say 80s) guitar solos. Then there are a few tracks that lack proper placement on the album, borderline ballads like “Divine Restlessness” and the Runaways throwback “Queen of Imperfection.” SPEAK’s most standout tracks are those with focused, subtle poetry from Mase and dance hall rhythms. I’m particularly fond of the Bill Laswell dubmix of “AnnaRexia,” found only on the deluxe edition due out on February 28th.
SPEAK will also be developed into a multimedia concert/performance piece that explores body image, sexuality, trauma, oppression, and freedom for NYC Summerstage 2013. Mase should have no problem making such a transition; her first album, A Brief Night Out, was a rock opera that has been performed in New York City with Broadway veteran Martin Vidnovic playing all the male roles, and also as a one-woman show directed by Sara Berg. For more information on Marla Mase and her new album SPEAK, visit:
A preview of “Piece of Peace” from SPEAK:
“The Wall:” a snippet of Mase’s rock opera, A Brief Night Out
For updates on the “The Speak Show:”
By Angela Page
Tagged as: marla mase. SPEAK. SPEAK deluxe. Angela Page. loveyourrebellion. patti smith. anne waldman. yoko ono. tomas doncker band. feminism. feminist art. feminist music. alternative rock. reggae. nyc summerstage 2013. the speak show. sara berg. martin vidnovic. a brief night out. new york city. global peace day 2012. Music Reviews. music reviews. music review.
Base By: Jahrenesis